Hannah George knows exactly when she was hit by a car: “Thursday, March 9 at 5:07 p.m.” It was back when New Paltz residents had the impression that spring had come early to the Hudson Valley, before the late-winter snowstorm walloped the region. She was making a left turn across North Putt Corners Road into her driveway, a maneuver she’d been executing for months.
George is a committed bicycle commuter: when she moved to New Paltz seven months ago, she insured her automobile for recreational use only, because she expected to drive to work only when the weather was particularly foul. She actually only lives about half a mile away from Twin Star Orchards, where she is the farm manager, but the ride is five times that distance. She cut her teeth on road rules for bicyclists in Ithaca, and didn’t anticipate any difficulty safely riding back and forth between home and work, even on roads like North Putt Corners, which have no shoulder and legally must be shared for all means of locomotion.
Six months after issues of bicyclist safety were cast into sharp relief when Gabriella O’Shea was severely injured bicycling home, George found herself in a situation that was chillingly similar. “My heart goes out to her and her family,” George said. Like O’Shea, she is a careful and conscientious cyclist; flashing lights and reflective tape are standard gear for her commutes. Unlike O’Shea, her physical injuries were minimal.
Hugging the white line that marks the edge of the travel lane is the best that a cyclist can do on some local roads, but that’s not where George was when she was struck. The weather being as balmy as it was, she was wearing nothing warmer than a t-shirt. Approaching her driveway, she looked carefully ahead and behind, taking control of the lane when she determined it was safe to do so, with her left arm straight out to signal a turn in that direction. While all but upon the double yellow line, she looked over her shoulder once again, and recalls thinking to herself, “That car is not supposed to be there.”
No one can say what was going through the driver’s mind in the moments leading up to the crash, but George observed, “I get the sense the driver didn’t understand what I was doing.” The vehicle’s right side mirror clipped her, which may have actually lessened her impact with the body of the car. She was thrown to the ground, but sustained only bruises. Another bit of good fortune was that the crash occurred just up the road from the New Paltz Rescue Squad headquarters. They and police responded quickly, and George is extremely grateful for the training and professionalism. While she escaped with minimal physical damage, the bicycle she bought for $125 would need about $100 of repairs to be made roadworthy again.
However lucky she may have been, George admits that her “first instinct” was to take to Facebook to express “outrage and anger” about the situation. “I did everything right,” she said. “I’m a very predictable bicyclist” who is well-versed in the rules of the road and the extra safety precautions one should take on a bicycle, such as the fluorescent safety vest she was wearing that day. “I take visibility very seriously,” she said, because “if you’re seen, you can avoid more injury,” which may help explain the comparatively minor injuries she herself received.
In time, the outrage has faded, and George is now seeking solutions and closure for her and others in her position, including the likes of Gaby O’Shea. Eventually, she hopes to reach out to the driver whose car struck her, and learn what that person was thinking. “It would be in a non-confrontational way,” she said. For now, she is adding her voice to the chorus of local residents clamoring for truly complete streets. Her first stop was a meeting of the New Paltz Town Board, and she has plans to sit down with bicycle-pedestrian committee members, as well. She is mulling other ways to get the message out, such as “share the road” bumper stickers to improve bicycle awareness.
A bicycle lane might have prevented O’Shea’s crash, but wouldn’t have helped George at all. Other than widening roads, she believes that better signage and road painting could be used to bring bicyclists to the forefront of drivers’ minds. She supports improving infrastructure, but thinks that education is another important piece of the puzzle. Drivers need to “know hand signals, and the rights of bicyclists” to be on the road at all. While it didn’t factor into this incident, George said that it’s clear some drivers consider bicyclists to be dangerous impediments, rather than fellow travelers with equal right to use the roads.
That’s not to say she won’t advocate for bicycle lanes, as well: North Putt Corners Road is too narrow to give a bicyclist the one meter of berth required without driving into the oncoming traffic lane, she pointed out. On the other hand, she rejects the notion that riding on those inadequate roads is “tempting fate,” and won’t stop doing what “should be my right.” Once she has a new bicycle — sooner, if a promised loaner comes through — she will again be taking to New Paltz roads on her way to bring Twin Star’s “ugly apples” to market.